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Suffolk Downs Was Searched For Gardner Heist Paintings

BOSTON (CBS) -- The search for the paintings stolen in the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist led authorities to Suffolk Downs a few months ago.

Acting on a tip, the FBI searched a couple of locations at the racetrack in September for some sign of the thirteen paintings, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. But Suffolk Downs CEO Chip Tuttle said their search didn't come up with anything.

"Obviously, we cooperated fully with the FBI," Tuttle told WBZ NewsRadio 1030 Monday. "It was actually very impressive, they had a big team, they were very serious, they went through the entire facility sort of with a fine-toothed comb. But the paintings are not at Suffolk Downs."

Tuttle said the call from the FBI came as a surprise for the staff--that nobody could imagine the long-missing works by Rembrandt, Degas, Manet, and Vermeer could be stashed at the track.

"At first, it was almost humorous," said Tuttle. "You laugh it off, the idea that these famous paintings that people have been looking for for years might be right underneath your nose."

But Tuttle said authorities had a theory that, when explained, seemed plausible--that someone may have stashed the paintings there while the facilities were closed in the early 90s, around the time of the heist.

"The track, of course, was closed in 1990 and '91," said Tuttle. "It closed at the end of 1989 and reopened in '92. So, the way they explained the premise was, perhaps someone had stashed them there when the track was closed. Then it made a little more sense that they would be interested in taking a look around."

Areas of the building that had been closed for more than 20 years were searched, and the FBI teams even opened a couple of old safes that nobody in the track's current administration could ever remember opening. They found nothing.

The paintings were stolen March 18, 1990, when the FBI says two white men disguised in Boston police uniforms were able to enter the museum by telling a security guard that they were responding to a disturbance. Once inside, the thieves handcuffed two security guards and kept them in the museum's basement.

The FBI has said in the past that they know who took the paintings, and that those people are now dead--but the feds have never said who the suspects who pulled off the heist were.

In August, the FBI released new surveillance footage from the night before the heist, showing a security guard letting in an unauthorized visitor 24 hours before the art was stolen.

Days later, a Quincy attorney said a former client of his had identified the visitor in the video.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Carl Stevens reports

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